Bottom line: Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me: Man's extremity is God's opportunity - trouble can be the first step in turning to God.
Sometimes people ask me how they can find God. The journalist Peggy Noonan gave an interesting response to that question. A person wrote to her, asking what they need to do in order to find God. Here is what she said: "Finding God is not hard. He wants to be found. The difficult part," she said, "is keeping him."* The difference between finding God and keeping him is like the difference between falling in love and staying in love. Peggy Noonan gave a series of steps for finding God and keeping him. I won't give you all the steps. You can read them yourself - they are in her book of Pope John Paul. But I would like to give you the first one. It is the most important and it is the one we see in today's Gospel.
The first step might surprise you, but I want you to think about it. The first step toward finding God is to get yourself in trouble. As Peggy Noonan notes, that is not so hard. She doesn't, of course, recommend doing something that would wreck your life or someone else's. What she says is to simply let life make you miserable: "Get low, gnash your teeth, cry aloud, rend your garments, refuse to get out of bed. Be in a crisis."
Now, there's a little humor here, but we recognize the truth. No matter how great life might be at one moment or another, it does not last. St. Theresa of Avila said that this life is like a bad night in a bad inn. Every smart, happy, well-adjusted adult will probably admit that St. Teresa got it right. The problem is that we can delude ourselves, start imagining that we will achieve some enduring happiness. Trouble can help shake that delusion.
Trouble is sometimes a great good. You can see it in the life of the great Russian author, Alexander Solzhenitsyn. He was born the year after the Bolsheviks came to power. As a child he was surrounded by Communist propaganda and grew up an untroubled, contented atheist. Anyone who questioned Marxist doctrine, he wrote off as a reactionary. He saw some signs of Soviet brutality - like a convict being struck as if he were an animal - but Solzhenitsyn passed it off as either an isolated incident or as a necessary unpleasantness so that the perfect society could arrive. That the utopia would come was a scientific certainly. When it came, then, with Russia at the head of the nations, the world would become heaven on earth - with abundance for everyone. Like many young Russians (and Western visitors) Solzhenitsyn blinded himself to the hideous reality of the Soviet system.** During World War II he eagerly served as an officer, but at the end of the war, the authorities discovered a letter he had written, critical of Stalin. His dreams of future happiness vanished when they condemned him to ten years of hard labor in the gulags, the labor camps for political prisoners. In the those terrible circumstances, he began to question his atheism. When he emerged, he not only believed in God, but in the forgiveness of sins through Christ. For the first time in his life, he discovered joy, true happiness.
Now, please God, none of us will ever have to face such a terrible experience as Solzhenitsyn endured. But something similar applies in our lives. Things often have to go bad before we find to God. Catherine of Aragon - who was King Henry VIII's first wife - said, "no one gets to God but through trouble." She knew what she was talking about. Trouble is God's opportunity to draw us to himself.
Today we hear about a blind man who cried out to the Lord, "Jesus, son of David, have pity on me." He was obviously in an extreme situation: deprived of sight and dependent upon the charity of others in order to stay alive. It's unlikely you and I will face such extremity, but do we not also have a sense that everything depends upon on the one to whom we call out? One way or another, trouble will come. If you are in trouble right now, like that blind beggar, call out to the Lord. But, even before that happen, you and I can make the beautiful prayer, "Jesus, son of David, have pity on me."
*From her book John Paul the Great
**For a description of how this blinding happens, I recommend Joseph Pearce's biography of Solzhenitsyn A Soul in Exile. To avoid engaging those with different ideas, they simply consigned them to ready categories: class enemies, kulaks, reactionaries, saboteurs, etc. Radios and newspapers subjected people to a constant barrage of double-talk: robbing peasants was promotion of equality; brutalizing critics was part of the quest for harmony and "self-criticism," dubious schemes were justified as "science." This maddening double-talk is not unlike what we are experiencing in our society. For example, how do you get otherwise skeptical people to legalize and fund human cloning? Simple. Tell them they are voting for an amendment to "ban human cloning."
From Archives (Homilies for 30th Sunday, Year B):
Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C
St. Mary of the Valley Album
Pictures from Peru
Bulletin (Praying to Saints: Conversation with Fallen-Away Catholic, Purgatory in Bible, Stewardship of Time)
Wonderful website for iPod users: Maria Lectrix Free MP3 files of Church Fathers
Parish Picture Album
MBC - Mary Bloom Center, Puno, Peru
(new, professional website)